18th November 2016

It is snowing as I write this! Big, fat, fluffy, white flakes falling across the site and looking across to the woods I wonder at the beautiful autumn we are having. The colour of tree leaves across Ham Hill and down through Hedgecock woods are simply stunning. Yellow, orange, coppers, browns and reds; it really is a wonderful sight and we all wonder why we see these amazing colours in autumn?

As the winter days get shorter trees stop photosynthesizing and the green chlorophyll colour goes too. The orange and yellow that we see in many leaves was always there it was just covered up by the green chlorophyll. Red leaves have glucose trapped within the leaf and maples are a good example of this. The browns of the oaks and hazel are because of the waste products still left in the leaf. Worms will pull the leaves down into the earth once they have fallen and the carbon cycle will start again.

Hopefully you will all have noticed that there is quite a bit of winter work going on around the site. Rangers and volunteers have been busy clearing back scrub from path entrances (Norton car park, Twins car park, Hedgecock woods) and on paths in general (leading to the time-stones and down to deep quarry). This should open up the park a little and allow you to see some more of the beautiful views around our site. It will also help us to create rides for bats and butterflies whilst letting in a little more light for wild flowers and ground flora. Our BBQ area too has had a short, back and sides and looks years younger – I must tell the wife!

Work Time Stone

If you read this blog you will know that it has been a challenging year here for many reasons but our volunteers have been simply amazing; even more amazing than usual! They have given extra days of their time to keep this place looking great and help the rangers and I’m sure that you will join me in thanking them for their humour, their hard work and their time; without your help it would not be possible.

Volunteer Group 2016

And, while we are talking of help, our grazier has put some lovely ruby red cattle on the Northern Spur for the winter. A traditional breed of the South West, they are excellent foragers and will help us to control longer grasses in the area around the monument. So please keep all dogs on leads when walking on the Northern Spur and please close the gate behind you.

Whilst our stream project was pushed back to next year we were still able to complete work for the “Hills to Levels” project. We’ve put in 7 leaky dams and three brash barriers along the stream running from Pit Ponds along the bottom of Witcombe valley. This will help to hold water back from the River Parrett and reduce the risk of the levels flooding. We also had a lot of fun doing it…

Rachael and Judy

We keep a lower profile over Christmas and the New Year but we keep the park clean and our phones are on so please ring us if you see a problem on-site. Two of us manage 390 acres here so we rely on your eyes, ears and support, which leads nicely on to me wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

Paul

13th September 2016

Well, the wheels have totally come off this bus. I know that it can’t be all plain sailing but July/August 2016 will remain in this ranger’s memory for a long, long time.Come to that, 2016 in general!

Both very busy and humid, August has seen us fire-fight our way across the whole site. I apologise if you have seen the dark side of this usually smiling face but, as well as the usual increase in traffic, visitors, litter, illegal camping, fires and dog’s mess, we’ve had 3 dog bins smashed and benches vandalised. And, on top of this, the whole site has exploded with wild parsnip, which rangers and volunteers have mostly pulled up for burning (about 3 tonnes!).

The cost is enormous; 3 bins alone cost over £500 and that does not take into account the time and effort it takes to repair, clean and generally keep this wonderful site tidy. About 25% of our time carrying out the above work rises to about 45-50% in the summer months. The Friends of Ham Hill and SSDC were busy for the last couple of months organising a fayre to celebrate the stream project.

Medieval Minstrel

This took place on Saturday the 3rd of September. Reenactors, living history demonstrations, warrior training, blacksmithing and information tents turned up at 7am on a wonderful sunny morning at Butcher’s field. The site started to fill and all you could hear was the chatter of people, swords clashing and the bellows of the blacksmith. However, at about 1.50pm flags started ripping, poles started snapping and event shelters were determined enough to blow away.About 700 people left the site in about 7 minutes, which must be a local record.

The cherry on the cake for me though was that the stream project will have to go back to planning to seek further approval. Unfortunately, the engineer was not happy with some of the flow calculations and has had to amend his drawings. 3 tear-drop ponds will become 5 smaller ones altering the plans that were submitted in May. As a result, they have been changed by more than 5% so we need to apply for a “section 73”, which will delay the project by a further 6 weeks. This would mean starting the project in mid/late October and the damage it would do to the valley floor would outweigh the benefits of putting the stream in. So, we have taken the hard decision to put the project on hold until May/June of next year. It will allow us more time to survey the area and increase our biological records however! It’s not all bad news…

On the positive side – “Winter is coming” and I for one cannot wait to see the colours of autumn streak across the site in their glorious shades of brown and red. The morning mists that hide the villages below during October/November are a treat and to sit in the view-point carpark and watch a watery sun melt into the Blackdowns in the evening reminds this ‘townie’ of why he fell in love this special place 10 years ago.

Paul

19th July 2016

Our site is literally buzzing. Insects of every description are going about their daily grind and a couple of notable species to look out for are the bloody nosed beetle and the burnet moth.

Jon the ranger, who is currently in hospital after his accident, continues to improve day by day and we all wish him a speedy recovery. After 8 weeks on my lonesome, I am happy to report that Frances (formerly of Avon Heath Country Park) has agreed to help out for the foreseeable future. I hope she enjoys her time here as much as I do.

However, time has been really short and frankly, managing the site has been a struggle. Vegetation that was 4 inches has suddenly become 3 feet and you can almost hear the grass grow. The tractor, strimmer and flail have all been very busy. On the plus side, the site has been awash with butterflies. The usual meadow browns, ringlets, large whites and marbled whites floating from flower to flower and back again. They have been joined by a smattering of dancing skippers, green veined whites and even a couple of clouded yellows have been sighted.

Moth

A wet and mild June left the valley… Green, very green! 300 odd sheep and 20 cattle have done their best to munch their way through 100 acres of grass but have needed the help of the grazier’s tractor and topper to keep it under control. The damp June was good for fungi though and there were some fantastic meadow puffballs about.

Puffball

The planning and programming for the stream project are all but done and we are just waiting on a few loose ends. Once these are tied up the work can begin in earnest. I only hope that it cools down a bit! Work carried out by the digger will only last for approximately two weeks (weather permitting) and then the rangers will complete the soft landscaping and fencing. Jack

Parker from pit ponds has kindly offered to donate some aquatic plants including yellow flag iris and water lily, which is fantastic news as it ensures that the aquatic plants are of a local provenance. As they were grown locally they will thrive when we plant them and will also be free from invasive plants and bugs.

Paul

Thursday 26th May

The Good: May is such a wonderful month to see the Country Park. The valley edge is full of red campion, white dead-nettle, cow parsley and everything else that is green is bursting forth with life. The willows we pollarded are coming to life and there are some lovely wildflowers to be found. Nearly all the trees are now in leaf and the music they create when the wind blows is both comforting and reassuring that winter is long behind us.

Flower

On Tuesday this week we received our planning application consent for the stream project (Yeah!). It has taken over a year to get where we are and about 260 hours of ranger time, so opening the letter was a bit like exam results day. Thankfully, it was a B and not an E.

Thank you to everyone that helped with this process and enabled the Country Park to move forward with this exciting project. There are a couple of conditions but we knew about them beforehand. One is that we will need an archaeologist to watch over us whilst digging the stream itself. This is because you never know what you might find next to the largest Iron Age hillfort in Britain and, we also have to stick to the plans that were drawn up by our engineer, Dan. So no waterslide or zip-wire down the valley then… Over the next few weeks we will carry out another survey to complete our baseline data and will start to ‘set out’ how the stream will meander down the valley itself. So you may see a few strange orange pegs in the ground but this is not where the stream will run – they are just markers for us to work off. We still have a couple of construction quotes to look at and then we can start programming the work itself, which will probably take three to four weeks to complete once we have started.

Sheep

The Bad: On Thursday 12th May, Ranger Jon was involved in a bad car accident on his way home from work. He has some serious injuries and was admitted to intensive care via an Air Ambulance. In intensive care for 12 days, I am happy to report that Jon is now out of intensive care and is slowly recovering. I have worked with this kind, gentle and funny man for nearly nine years and, frankly it was a shock but people local to this site have been fantastic with their offers of support and kindness to both Jon and his family. Thank you.

The Ugly: Summer here brings the sun, fun and the crowds. It gets so busy; on the road, in the car-parks, across the site in general and we are already seeing an increase in litter in and around the site. We are also a man down at the moment, so can I please ask that if the bins are full you take your rubbish away with you and not leave it for the badger or the fox. If you wish to BBQ please use the BBQ area where plinths are provided for you to cook on and the Rangers office is close by should you cook too many sausages! Paul

 

Tuesday 4th May 2016

The planning application continues to move forwards and there have been no objections so far (Phew!). Our engineer, Dan, is busy drawing up construction drawings for the contractors and I have started to draw up a list of local aquatic and marginal plants for the project. On a blustery but sunny Saturday morning last week five of us ventured out to survey the valley. Thank you all for your help.

Concentrating on birds and plants we got to work gathering base-line data for the project. We saw 18 species of bird and counted 15 different wild flowers, which isn’t fantastic but it’s a start. This survey will be repeated next month along with a butterfly transect when hopefully it will be a little warmer.

Walking back up the valley with the wind at my back I spared a thought for the people that lived there in the 15-1600’s. How hard life must have been but how wonderful at the same time. Seeing the valley start to ‘green up’ after a hard winter, the morning bird-song etc. it must have been a warming sight/sound to those few families who lived there. Data that we collect over the next couple of months will give an indication of what biodiversity there is in the valley at the moment. Next year when the stream is (hopefully) running we will carry out another survey to see if we have been able to increase the biodiversity there as this was one of the aims of the project.

Lastly, on your travels in and around Witcombe valley you may notice some strange wooden box-like structures. They are bases for benches that we will be putting in over the next month or so and not the ranger’s raised vegetable beds as has been suggested!

Paul

Monday 11th April 2016

The last few days in the valley have been wonderful. The sun has shown its face and transformed the valley with colour and shadow. Celandine, dog violet, primrose and the wonderful wood anemone are out in abundance.

The Easter bunny has visited and children have enjoyed the chocolaty bounty she hid away in Horse’s wood. Lambs too, have returned with their mothers to feed and frolic across the valley and somehow give it purpose again. Has spring finally sprung?

The planning department has revealed that the date for our application response is May 18th and it will hopefully be good news – otherwise this will be a shorter blog than I imagined! Contractors have also visited the site to see what work needs to be carried out by machinery (digger) and quote prices.

We have to get at least three quotes to ensure that we get best value for project and not waste Lottery money. Both rangers and volunteers have trimmed five willows by the medieval pond and cleared lots of fallen brash as part of the project.

 

Willows 1

 

 

Willows

We think the trees are around 30 – 40 years old and because of their age cutting them back will be done in stages; cutting them completely may have shocked or killed them. So, we have reduced them by around 30% and we will cut them again in a couple of years to reduce them further.

New growth will grow around the cuts, which will ensure that there is willow habitat of different ages and that they will carry on providing food for butterflies, moths and other insects for years to come. Archaeologist, Alan Graham has also been hard at work removing soil in layers from where the medieval pond joins the stream. Unfortunately, little was found in the way of finds, other than some burned bones.

Alan Digging

Digging did reveal some interesting variations in the clay deposits (are they geological or man-made?) and a bank of large stones in the shape of a horseshoe. I will write a bit more when Alan has finished his report. During April we’ll survey the valley’s wildlife. Plants and birds first and then butterflies in the coming months. Thank you to those that have offered their assistance with surveying, I will send out an Email over the next couple of days. If you have surveying experience and would like to help please Email me at paul.mcneill@southsomerset.gov.uk Lastly, the valley is a wonderful place to walk so please come and see the hard work that so many have already contributed to but if you bring your dog please keep it on a lead. Paul

 

21st March 2016

Welcome to the Stream Project’s Blog.   Over the next few months we hope to keep you informed and entertained about what we are doing and how we are going to do it. There will be successes but there will, no doubt, be a few failures along the way as that is life. We aim to ‘blog’ at least once a week and there will hopefully be some good pictures to go along too.

We have done lots of research on the valley and its history (thank you if you supplied us with any information), hired engineers, archaeologists and have spoken to over 20 organisations to ensure that everyone is happy with the project details. Planning permission is the next step and we are waiting to hear if we have been successful.

 

Witcombe Valley 2

Witcombe valley is steep sided and naturally lends itself to having a small stream run through it. It is there at the moment but 250 metres of it is underground. Over the coming months, we will dig out the medieval pond with the help of archaeologist Alan Graham and clear out the stream that is above ground.   An exploratory dig under Alan’s watchful eye has already turned up some medieval finds; mainly pottery, oyster shell and burned bones.

Around June we can hopefully begin work in earnest and create a lasting feature; One, which all the local community can enjoy for years to come. We will also have lots of volunteering opportunities along the way and if you would like to get involved with the practical side (digging, landscaping, planting etc.) please drop me an Email at paul.mcneill@southsomerset.gov.uk and I will put you on the mailing list.

Paul

Witcombe Valley 1